|Yolanda Sharpe, Neighborhood, encaustic |
and mixed media on double panels,
48 by 43.75 by 4 inches, 2010
YOLANDA SHARPE, AGAIN,
this time on THE LYDIAN STONES
Yolanda Sharpe is the chooser this week on The Lydian Stones. Please fly off there and leave a comment... Yolanda is a remarkable person who is a painter and longtime head of the SUNY-Oneonta art department. She is also a notable soprano and writes poetry to boot. I somehow could not hold her to one poem...
UNDERSTANDING POETRY, AGAIN
Once upon a time I had a mustard-colored copy of Understanding Poetry. Maybe you did, too, way back when. Garrick Davis has interesting things to say about the book and its authors, Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren.
(And long ago I had a class on Faulkner with Brooks... He was elderly but in possession of quite sound marbles. Our first assignment was to do a timeline for the somewhat wayward Soldier's Pay. I did a maniacal, detailed version--and learned a lot as a writer about keeping time in line and how easily it can go astray.)
This was the official call for literature teachers across to the country to drop the scholarly pretensions of their profession, and return to literature. Though it seems a modest opening paragraph for a letter now, it was heard at the time as a rallying cry by the young, and a declaration of war by the old. John Crowe Ransom, in a review of the book, said as much: “The analyses are as much of the old poems as the new ones, and those of the old are as fresh and illuminating as those of the new; or at least, nearly. What can this mean but that criticism as it is now practiced is a new thing?”
To open its pages now and compare it to our new textbooks is to suffer vertigo—our educational system has fallen from a very high place. (What would the authors have made of colleges that don’t require English Literature majors, even, to take a course in Shakespeare?) What they never set down was a reason why college undergraduates should study poetry at all. In our own, more dissolute, day—when the humanities have fallen into disrepute—we have need of such reasons. We have need of teachers like Brooks and Warren again, who would explain to us why freshman should always be forced to climb the summits of literature together. If you think that textbooks are invariably dull affairs, you owe it to yourself to find this book.
Update: Poet Maryann Corbett wrote me that the link wasn't working for her. For some reason it takes a minute to come up. I tried linking to other pages with the same result. Just wait, and it will come up instead of just giving an about: blank message.
If you are interested in formal poetry: I am dipping into Amanda French's online dissertation, Refrain Again: The Return of the Villanelle. And I am finding it enlightening. Thank you, Amanda! Here's a snip:
It is in fact the case that the vast majority of poetry scholars know only as much about the villanelle as is to be found in handbooks such as Adams’s Poetic Designs–and the handbooks are all wrong.
Handbooks and anthologies and scholarly surveys–reference texts of any kind–that mention the villanelle almost unanimously assert or strongly imply that the villanelle has nineteen lines and an alternating refrain on the scheme A’bA” abA’ abA” abA’ abA” abA’A”, and that this scheme was fixed centuries ago in France through then-common practice, though it is now a rarity. Here is a sobering truth: only a single poet of the Renaissance wrote a villanelle by that definition, and he wrote only one. Jean Passerat’s “Villanelle,” also called “J’ay perdu ma tourterelle” (probably written in 1574), has come to represent a nonexistent tradition of which it is the sole example.